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The Asian ApertureJapanese Cultural Festival Clearwater, FL 2011
POSTED BY JASON FETTERS, October 2, 2011    Share

Sponsored by the Rissho Kosei-kai of Tampa Bay, October 1st marked the first annual Japanese Cultural Festival in Clearwater. A quick glance at their website tells who they are, the “Rissho Kosei-kai is a worldwide Buddhist organization” that has a Buddhist center in Clearwater where one can learn Zen. This event is the starting point for a free Japanese language course that will be taught by local Jpop singer Chii and her husband. Having studied Japanese myself for many years, all beginning students need correct pronunciation and that is where Chii is needed. You don’t want to end up in Japan, for the first time, mispronouncing key words and phrases. It is vital to have a native speaker correct you. Now more about the festival.

When I first arrived it was a small area, much smaller than I expected. Still, so many people showed up that the right festival atmosphere was achieved, even in Clearwater. Japanese festivals are one of the best ways to develop a taste and feel for the culture. You can show up at any time. I generally arrive early to scope out the food vendors and see what events are going on. Festivals in Florida are a lot like Comic and Sci Fi cons in that you generally just show up and run into people you know and have talked to from previous festivals. Paul Stevens was cooking Okonomiyaki and we talked briefly about Tokyo Mokyo, his Japanese language school. Tokyo Mokyo has gone online so now students can be anywhere and take a lesson. You don’t have to sit in a classroom anymore. I remember working at Nova and several fellow teachers who worked at Nova’s Multimedia Center. A student could purchase a headset and take a lesson at any time with a wide variety of languages to choose from. A lot of things are better than they used to be.

I also saw Ron and Shige from Tampa Japanese Meetup. They had a long line for Tonkatsu, (fried pork) Kara-age, (fried chicken) takoyaki (fried octopus,) and my own personal favorite, Oden, (a type of soup.) In fact, no Japanese festival seems right to me without consuming one bowl of Oden. After the meet and greet it was time to sample the events.

This festival even had DJ Mathu Bishop who did a fine job MCing. He also played a mixture of traditional Japanese songs and modern Jpop.

First up was the taiko drumming of Matsuriza, a taiko school in
Orlando. I have seen Matsuriza perform many times and they always put on a good show. They were a real crowd pleaser during the day and put on a great performance at night. One of the advantages of this festival was there was a stage and lighting. The lighting really worked well during the night performances.

Next was local Jpop singer, Chii, who gave a great performance consisting of original songs. I spoke to her inbetween sets, and even picked up a copy of her latest CD which she signed. She is off to Anime Vegas in Los Vegas to rock the house.

The Gulf Coast Kendo School in Palmetto, gave a quick Kendo demo. The rules of kendo were explained. Various drills were performed. Then came my favorite part, the actual sparring. Both performers were relaxed yet deadly seriously about swordsmanship. They provided the crowd with loud Kai shouts and the whack of the shinai, (bamboo sword) hitting the top of someone’s head. If you imagine the sword as steel, you can visual in your mind how someone could be cut in half.

There was also a local Okinawa Dance Group that performed traditional dances. One lady was dressed in kimono with a fan and dancing along to traditional music. In the way she moved, you could easily tell that she had put in years of practice.

The last event at night was the best, Chii was singing, Matsuiza was drumming, and DJ Mathu Bishop was spinning. All three forces combined to create something visually stunning and music that made you want to dance.

I took lots of picture of different people trying on kimono. I was hiding out between events in the kimono area. Both men and women can try on a variety of kimono and then have your picture taken on a tatami mat. There was one girl with big glasses, wearing a Durarara!! Shirt that was so shy about putting on a kimono, even with help from a expert. Her friend picked her up and dropped her on the mat. Sometime we all need that push to get things going. Despite her apprehensions, she looked very elegant and pretty once that T-shirt and jeans were gone and the kimono was on with a big pink bow in the back.

I also did some browsing at Alissia’s anime/manga/pop culture booth. She have a few Jpop CD’s for sell. Sadly, I owned most of them. She also had a wonderful Totoro photobook for $40 and I only had a $20 with me so I let that go. Afterwards, I talked to this guy who ran to find a ATM just to buy that book. To the victors go the spoil.

What impressed me the most was the end of the festival. While most people left, a few people stayed to help out with the cleanup. Even Chii helped her husband fold a tent. In fact, everyone did a great job of putting the center back to the way it was.

This first Japanese Cultural Festival in Clearwater was a great success with many fine events and booths. I am already looking forward to next year's.

"The Asian Aperture" is ©2011 by Jason Fetters. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2011 by Nolan B. Canova.

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